Canada's 5 best performances at the Tokyo Olympics
The 2020 Olympics were uniquely special for Canadian athletes, and not just because the event happened in 2021. Canada departs Tokyo with 24 medals, a national record for Summer Games that weren't boycotted.
Canadian women landed on 18 podiums. Maude Charron became the Olympic weightlifting champion at 64kg. The women's eight rowing crew led wire to wire in the final to reign supreme. Backstroke swimmer Kylie Masse doubled up on silver at 100m and 200m. By crossing the line third in Friday's canoe double 500m final, Laurence Vincent-Lapointe and Katie Vincent clinched the milestone medal that exceeded the previous record total for Canada. Kelsey Mitchell supplied a surprise gold in women's sprint cycling on the final day to bump the final tally even higher.
On the men's side, Evan Dunfee's last-minute podium charge in the 50km race walk was memorable. The same went for distance runner Mohammed Ahmed, who motored from sixth place to second on the final lap of the 5,000m. No Canadian had medaled in either event before.
The pandemic postponed these Games for a calendar year, throwing off training plans and presenting an unforeseen hurdle in the path of finely tuned athletes trying to peak at the right time. Each of the 24 medals was special in its own way to the athletes and celebrated heartily back home.
Kudos to them and to the following five standout performers, the Canadians who shone brightest on the pitch, in the pool and on the track.
Andre De Grasse
More than most sprinters, De Grasse gets faster as he gets moving. Momentum propels him onto Olympic podiums. He proved it three times in Tokyo.
The slowest starter in the men's 100m final, De Grasse jetted past three rivals in the waning meters to nab the bronze medal from the outside lane. Accelerating on the straightaway of the 200m final, he pulled away from Kenny Bednarek and Noah Lyles to win gold, his crowning moment. As Canada's anchor in the 4x100m relay, De Grasse was handed the baton in fifth place. If you blinked, you risked missing him run down Jamaica and China to steal bronze.
De Grasse's rise to Olympic champion and six-time medallist, a Canadian athletics record, beggars belief. He didn't train as a sprinter until he was 17, when, in his fairy-tale 100m debut, he ran 10.91 seconds at a high school meet from a standing start (while wearing basketball shorts).
Hamstring injuries in 2017 and 2018 disrupted the momentum he generated at the Rio Olympics, but De Grasse refuted his own fear that he might have peaked already by delivering time and again in the clutch this past week. Lamont Marcell Jacobs was quicker in the 100m, but no elite sprinter rises to pressure quite like De Grasse. And no Canadian has run the 200m so artfully since Percy Williams, the Olympic champ in 1928.
Women's soccer team
This gold medal was 21 years in the making. Christine Sinclair, Canada's captain and international soccer's most prolific goal-scorer, played the first of her 304 matches for the national side in 2000, the year that Julia Grosso was born. Generations united to defeat Sweden in the Olympic final and secure the program's first major world triumph.
Heroes abounded on the roster. Sinclair scored against Japan in the tournament opener and drew the penalty kick that tied the gold-medal match. Jessie Fleming converted said penalty, as she did to stun the United States in the semifinals and as she did to open the shootout against Sweden. Keeper Stephanie Labbe was close to unbeatable throughout the knockout stage. Deanne Rose and Grosso entered the final as substitutes and netted the penalties that finished the Swedes.
Canada scored a mere six goals in as many games in Japan, and none in open play from the quarterfinal onward. That didn't matter. Behind a composed defense, Labbe maintained clean sheets against star-studded Brazil and U.S. teams. Smirking to try to rattle Sweden's penalty takers, Labbe stuffed two of their attempts with Canada trailing in the shootout.
Canadian soccer endured letdowns to get to this point: the brutal semifinal loss to the U.S. at the 2012 Olympics, the early exits at the past several Women's World Cups. At 38 years old, though, Sinclair now owns three Olympic medals. She said after winning gold that she'll keep playing for the national team and savor her time at the mountaintop.
Take it from the seven-time medallist herself: Google "Canada's most decorated Olympian" and Oleksiak's name appears. Two Summer Games appearances are all she needed to top the national count. At the age of 21, Oleksiak is one medal up on De Grasse, speed skater Cindy Klassen, and dual-sport star Clara Hughes, the speed skater and cyclist.
Individually, Oleksiak's games weren't quite as fruitful as her star turn at Rio 2016, where she won the 100m freestyle and placed second in the 100m butterfly. Don't get it wrong, though: She left Tokyo with a bag. Oleksiak beat Katie Ledecky to the wall for 200m freestyle bronze. And her blistering anchor legs clinched two Canadian relay medals, silver in the 4x100m freestyle and bronze in the 4x100 medley.
Shoulder and back ailments and a concussion, not to mention the pandemic, sidelined Oleksiak for stretches of the past four years. Fame saddled her with massive expectations post-Rio, which briefly took the fun out of swimming, she told reporters at Canada's Olympic trials. Now she and De Grasse are Canada's only Olympians who've scaled three podiums at multiple Games. It sure looked joyous.
Maggie Mac Neil
Mac Neil strained to become an Olympic champ, and then she strained to confirm her victory. The bespectacled 21-year-old doesn't wear contacts or prescription goggles in the water, so when she sped to the wall in 55.59 seconds to win the 100m butterfly, she had to squint across the pool at the scoreboard before celebrating.
In Tokyo, Mac Neil met the standard she set for herself at the 2019 world championships. She was the only 100m fly swimmer at that meet who dipped under 56 seconds, upsetting the world record holder, Sarah Sjostrom of Sweden, and Australian superstar Emma McKeon. Mac Neil qualified sixth for the Olympic final and was in seventh place at the turn, but she blazed to make up the needed ground. Her last lap (29.09 seconds) was the fastest in the field by more than half a second, squeezing McKeon and Sjostrom out of the spotlight again.
As was the case at Rio, Canadian women medaled in six Tokyo swim events (to the men's zero). Mac Neil headed home with three, joining Oleksiak on the 4x100m freestyle and medley podiums. Masse, Sydney Pickrem, Kayla Sanchez, Rebecca Smith, and Taylor Ruck each were part of one of those efforts.
Warner's first act on the track in Tokyo was to win his 100m heat in 10.12 seconds. That matched his personal best time and his decathlon world record at the distance. For context, two-thirds of the actual men's 100m field ran slower in qualifying, and Warner is proficient in nine other events.
The tone was set. Warner proceeded to stake his claim to the title of the world's greatest athlete. He won decathlon gold and became history's fourth decathlete to surpass 9,000 total points. Warner was the field's top long jumper and fastest 110m hurdler. He finished third in the 400m and discus throw and fifth in the 1,500m. That he excelled across the board limited France's Kevin Mayer, another member of the 9,000 club, to silver for the second straight Olympics.
The decathlon is grueling in two-day spurts, and exertion compounds over the course of a career. Ashton Eaton, the 2012 and 2016 Olympic gold medallist, was 28 years old when he retired shortly after triumphing in Rio. Warner is 31 and just peaked in Tokyo's oppressive heat. Pretty good.
Nick Faris is a features writer at theScore.